Early Christian Architecture

A church in Pabuda, Syria.

By the end of the first century, it is evident that Christian places of worship had developed a somewhat standard form of architecture. Churches from the 1st through the 3rd centuries took classical Greek and Roman architecture in its most flourished form as its main influence. Classical architecture had at this time reached its height after developing for thousands of years.

The tendency to use Greek and Roman architectural styles was made without reference to their original symbolism. This allowed for a more complete freedom of architectural styles. There were, however, unique designs that were created specifically for churches. One of the few architectural developments made by early churches was the construction of a dome on top of a polygon.

The Basilica

The term Basilica originally denoted anything kingly or lordly. The basic characteristics of a basilica in terms of a place of worship are: a rectangular ground plan divided longitudinally into three or five aisles by columns which support the roof. The roof above the middle aisle (the nave) is raised above the adjacent aisles so that its supporting walls have openings for air and light. A half dome projects beyond the rectangular plan.

The spread of Christianity by the third century AD. The spread of Christianity by the third century AD.

By the third century, it was the Middle East that was the most flourished region for Christianity. This area mostly included Asia Minor, Syria, and Egypt. Unfortunately it is in this area that early Christian monuments have either been completely destroyed or hardly explored. Many of these early churches were likely converted by Islam into mosques, the most notable example being Hagia Sophia.

Here Syria is an exception. The conquest of Islam left the greater part of this area an empty desert. Since most of these early churches were built of stone, they have survived. They are therefore some of the best available examples of Christian architecture from the third and fourth centuries.

The Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. in Bethlehem. Constantine ordered a church to be built over the place of Jesus' birth in 339 AD. Two crusading kings were later crowned here.

The Holy Land, especially Jerusalem and Bethlehem, was a place of pilgrimage and therefore was the site of many beautiful churches. Many of these were constructed first by the order of Roman Emperor Constantine and later Justinian. Scant remains are still left of these churches. The Crusaders who came 1000 years later, in their love of building, showed little respect for ancient monuments.

We would expect Egypt to be a wonderful place of ancient churches to explore, since it was one of the first Christian strongholds. But here too, the Coptic churches have been so thoroughly destroyed or fundamentally altered that not much more than the original foundation can be discovered.

Plan Views of Early Churches

Early Churches plan view 1 (A) St. Lorenzo, Rome; (B) Basilica in Suweda, Syria; (C) Basilica Ursiana, Ravenna; (D) St. Paul's, Rome.
Early Churches plan view 2 (E) Xenodochium of Pammachius, Porto; (F) St. Maria Maggiore, Rome; (G) Basilica in Kalb-Luseh, Syria.

Exterior and Interior Views of Early Churches

Basilica in Turmanin, Syria. Basilica in Turmanin, Syria.
Basilica in Kalb-Luseh, Syria Basilica in Kalb-Luseh, Syria
St. Apollinare in Nuovo, Ravenna. St. Apollinare in Nuovo, Ravenna. Sixth century.
St. George, Ezra, Syria. St. George, Ezra, Syria.



Originally published

Sources:
  Monuments of the Early Church by
  A History of Christianity by



Welcome new readers!

In a hope to share any interesting historical stories I come across in the future I will be writing and posting articles whenever I can. Hopefully quite often.

I'll also be keeping you up to date on any good reads I come across in the Recommended section.

Looking for something in particular? Find it more quickly on the Search page.

And here is a complete list of all articles since the beginning.

Recent Articles

H. G. Wells Portrate

"It is possible to believe that all the past is but the beginning of a beginning, and that all that is and has been is but the twilight of the dawn."

~

The Discovery of the Future

Share



Early Christian Architecture

0 Comments:



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.